Embracing your sloppy first draft

stay positive

So I have begun the intimidating and grueling process of creating my ‘first draft’. And honestly there was nothing more scary than setting out to write that introduction.  As I typed out the words, the voice in my head was screaming rather loudly and words to the effect of “Is this the best that you can do?  It’s terrible.  Go bake a cake instead!

Bear with me while I introduce you to said voice.  I lovingly refer to her as Natalie.  I named her Natalie because it is vaguely reminiscent of both ‘nasty’ and ‘Nazi”.  Natalie is both of these things (and a lot more besides!).  Natalie is responsible for keeping me firmly in the land of the procrastinators for years.  And I mean YEARS.  After all, I am no spring chicken (ahem!) and this is not by any means the first novel that I have attempted to write.  I blame Natalie for the fact that in the past I have resorted to all sorts of life-changing decisions in response to the challenge of writing a novel.

Here, for your amusement, is a little list that I like to call “Ways to avoid finishing a novel”:

  • Started a children’s novel and too scared to finish?  Why not get pregnant instead?
  • Started a romance novel and too scared to finish?  Why not get pregnant again?
  • Started another novel of the ‘literary’ genre?  Why not emigrate to New Zealand instead?
  • Got an idea for another great novel?  Why not retrain as a lawyer instead?
  • Know you want to be a writer?  Why not ditch the law degree and retrain as a therapist instead?

The list goes on.  And on.  That Natalie is a real slave driver, I can tell you.

But finally, Natalie and I had to have a talk.  After all, there was nothing more that I could do to avoid writing.  I had done all that I could to distract myself.

I had a lovely life that brought me joy daily.  But I was still frustrated until I realised that the problem lay in my close personal relationship with Natalie.

Having a heart to heart with your inner critic

Like many toxic relationships, my relationship with Natalie was a love-hate one.  I hated her and she loved me hating her.  I listened to her and she loved to be listened to.  It could have gone on forever but I had had enough.  I needed to get real about what I really wanted from my life.  I had to get real about the fact that ‘achievements’ meant nothing if you couldn’t really give a rat’s arse about the thing that you had achieved.

So one night (0ne of those dark night’s of the soul… I know you’ve had one!) I told Natalie that we were through.  I was gracious enough to let her know that she could hang out with me only if she kept her mouth shut.  And this was the killer, I told Natalie, that voice in my head, that I had decided to write a novel and that I didn’t care if the first draft was awful.  In fact I didn’t care if the fifth/ twentieth draft was awful, I just wanted the pleasure of writing these little words: “The End”.

And so I have begun.  Natalie is still hovering but I am ignoring her and embracing the idea of a sloppy first draft.  I am loving the fact that I can breathe into the story and worry about technicalities and ‘art’ later.

An invitation to create slop together:

Today why not join me?  Gag your inner critic (whatever their name is!) and embrace the sloppy glory of your first draft.  It will be worth it, I promise.

Do you have any suggestions for ways to silence your inner critic.  All suggestions gratefully received in the comments….

 

Keep calm and write a novel

keep-calm-and-write-a-novel-BLOG SIZE

I am wondering if it really is possible to “keep calm and write a novel”….

On the one hand we, as writers, are supposed to be consumed with the mighty fire of the Muse and throw ourselves like flotsam into the fray of birthing this novel.

I want to find a different way.  I want to find the writerly equivalent of a water birth – soulful, soothing and spiritual.  I don’t want to be consumed and burned up by this process.  I am on a quest to find a way of writing that feels full of a calm sense of purpose.

There is this association between art and depression/ madness that I have bought into in the past.  The romance of Sylvia Plath.  The tortured genius of Van Gogh.  The bright light of Mozart.  We want to see artists and creatives as different, dangerous, somehow defective.  We buy into this idea that angst will make us better writers, bring more depth to the process.  And indeed when, a few years ago, I played with poetry I did find that my best poems came from mining deep into my psyche and opening old wounds.  I was able to access those scars and use them to power the words on the page.

But can I do this for a 90000 word novel without decimating myself at the same time?  Probably not.  And more to the point, do I want my writing to destroy my mental health and take down the joy of those around me?  Absolutely not.

So how can I do this?

By shifting my paradigm.  Great art is not only born from great pain.  The artist/ writer does not have to sacrifice themselves to their art.  This is a story that we have been fed to justify not trying to create great art in the first place.  It is the systematic degradation of genius to the realm of dangerous and ‘sick’.

My new paradigm is that my writing can be a joyful expression of all the facets of who I am as a person.  I can write about sadness because sadness is part of my emotional spectrum.  But I can equally write of joy.  All the emotions that I feel are part of my story, my voice.  I do not need to take on the cloak of mental illness in order to be a ‘good writer’.  I can see writing as part of the expression of my whole self.  Writing should not burn me out, it should fill me up.  It should not feel like an endurance test, it should feel like playing.  Yes, playing hard and giving my all to the game, but playing nonetheless.

So today, I call upon this new paradigm to guide my process.  I embrace the idea that my happiness is invested in bringing this project to fruition, but it is the process that will bring me joy, not the outcome.  All too often as writers, we attach ourselves to outcomes over which we have no control.  And then we wonder why we get disappointed when the final ‘product’ fails to perform in the marketplace??  That is madness disguised as a industrial business model.

Today, I write for myself.  I write to express my own unique interpretation of the world.  I do not write to create product, I write to create an outlet for my spirit in all its unique glory.

Why are you writing?  Is it time for you to shift your paradigm?  Leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.

How to start a novel?

How to start a novel? 

The million dollar question….  I think in the past I would have been rather methodical about he whole thing.  I would have planned each chapter and a word count, created a writing schedule and stuck to it.  I would have banged out the words to get the quota.

After all, we are all trained to work like machines and unfortunately we are often told that writing is no different.  Bum on the seat, fingers poised, stopwatch on and off you go.

photo credit: lucidtech via photopin cc

photo credit: lucidtech via photopin cc

I am sure that such a mechanistic model is very effective.  Just like I am sure that SMART goals work and that going to the gym on a regular basis will get your body in shape.  These are all proven methods.  They produce results.

But

I am so tired of being SMART.  I am exhausted by the punishing targets that I am setting for myself.  I have realized that as a boss of myself, I am a real BITCH.

So for this new novel, this first proper novel, I am choosing a new way.

I am retreating into my dream space.

I am resting and allowing the story to come to me.  Like a wild animal, my story needs to learn to trust me and in order for that to happen, I need to trust myself.

photo credit: lanuiop via photopin cc

photo credit: lanuiop via photopin cc

I need to rest into my writer intuition.  I need to trust that I have all it takes to tell this story.

Now, instead of thinking of plotting as Stage one of a project, I am retreating into the dreams.  Allowing the fragments of my story to drift to me, piece by piece.

I have set no words to these little pieces of ephemera.  I record them as they come in my trusty Moleskine.  I cut out pictures or pin them to my Novel Inspiration board.

I am trusting this new process.  It does seem rather right-brain and just a little bit dippy but, you know what, I am LOVING it.

Today why not join me in making a writer’s pledge to give your story the space to come to you.

Sit in the clearing of your imagination and allow your characters and their lives to creep out from the shadows and feed from your hand.

Here’s to intuition my friends.

What is your process for starting a novel?  Are you a planner or a dreamer?  Leave a comment I would love to know…

Juliette